Neville Bonner is a professional saxophonist working around Sussex on the South Coast of England. I’m really grateful to him for allowing his horn ‘Connie’ to be reviewed here at Saximus Maximus.
He decided to respond to an advert from Ron, an American eBay seller, some years ago for ‘brand new 1953 Conn altos’. Ron owned around 2,000 prototype saxophones from all eras he had retrieved from the Conn factory in Elkhart, Indiana in 1977 – a collection he described as ‘his pension’.
Neville believes his horn is a prototype, probably a Pan American ‘stencil’ for a student line. It is possible that the acquisition of Conn by the Best Manufacturing Company of Nogales in 1960 (according to Sax Gourmet) and subsequent shift in student horn production to Arizona put paid to the potential production of this earlier design.
Neville thought he had made a big mistake when, custom duty paid, the alto arrived from Detroit. He discovered the horn needed more than the expected re-pad as it was completely rusty, it had struck, rusty, rotten springs and a rotten case. He had a massive challenge just in getting the horn apart to restore it. After six months of trying to get free the rods he chanced to meet a ‘bloke in a pub’ who claimed he could get the horn apart – he explained that his job was designing and making rockets and satellites, so the two swapped phone numbers. Following up the next day Neville’s contact did get the rods out – by applying 3-in-1 oil, putting liquid nitrogen on the iron rod and heating the outer brass with a blowtorch. The difference in temperature evidently made all the difference.
But the problems weren’t over. ‘Mine didn’t have a crook made for her so I had to adjusted a standard Conn crook from the early 50’s to make her work’, he says – adding that it was a bit scary and he questioned whether it would play in tune at all.
Also the octave mechanism was very stiff, so he improvised, using an electric carving knife to simulate ‘61 years worth of being pushed open and shut in an hour or so!’
The whole restoration process didn’t cost much – just £50 for the new pads and a bit more for the new springs he bought from a shop.
Unlacquered, the horn is made from ’cartridge brass’. Like a 6M it has a key-guard on the left hand side, but it has more old-fashioned left hand ‘pinkie keys’. Neville describes it ‘like a Selmer from the 1920s’.
It is engraved ‘58 M 1953’. Neville believes it has a 6M sound cone and was a stage in the development of either the Pan American 58M or the 14M Director number 2.
Neville had no great expectations for the quality of the horn when was eventually finished. But as a regular player he had a lot of gigs to try it out and adjust the action. He describes the horn as having a ‘fat bottom’, with a ‘lovely midrange’ and playing ‘strongly at the top’. He plays with a Meyer 8 mouthpiece with a Vandoren ZZ 2 ½ strength reed.
- Make – Conn
- Model – Pan American prototype 6M alto
- Serial Number – 5XX,XXX
- Date of Manufacture – 1953
- Place of Manufacture – Elkhart, Indiana, USA
- Finish – Bare brass
- Weight – 5lbs 3oz
- Sound – Fat bottom, lovely midrange, strong top
- Ease of Blowing – Open and controllable
- Ease of Fingering – Well balanced
Neville is clear a saxophone nut like me. He gets satisfaction from the long journey he had to take this horn to get it workable and even more from having uncovered such a gem. He was very generous in not criticising the eBay seller and eloquent in describing the restoration – I think he’d make a brilliant after dinner speaker.
Do you have an interesting saxophone and a good story to tell? If so let me know and we’ll feature it here.